Grand Turk opened to big-ship cruise traffic in February 2006 with a brand-new pier -- and pier-side facilities, such as a shopping arena, rollicking bars and restaurants (including the Caribbean's largest-ever Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville restaurant), cruise terminal and shore tour operators. The island, part of the British-affiliated Turks and Caicos string, had previously been considered too out of the way for anything but the smallest boutique-sized vessels.
You could say that the fact that Grand Turk had such a phenomenal maiden season was a lock, right? After all, Carnival Corporation, the industry's leading cruise ship company, made sure of that, assigning ports of call to vessels belonging to its own lines. It was a mainstay on voyages on cruise lines ranging from Princess to Carnival and from Holland America to Costa.
What's interesting, though, is that Grand Turk's successful season was also helped along by lines that actually had to pay Carnival Corporation to come there (and use its cruise terminal and other facilities). Crystal Cruises, for instance, visited Grand Turk seven times in 2006 and will call eight times in 2007. Spokeswoman Mimi Weisband says, "Guest response has been very positive. Grand Turk is a fantastic snorkeling and scuba destination and our guests are enjoying the experience."
As interest grows, so does the list of excursions offered; a spokesman for Holland America tells us that due to "very strong response," they have just about doubled the number of tours offered on Grand Turk, including helmet diving and glass-bottom kayaking.
During the port's inaugural season, according to the statement, not a single call was missed due to severe weather -- an important consideration for lines planning Caribbean voyages, particularly during hurricane season.
Grand Turk is actually the second major "new port" to be developed in the Caribbean, having been preceded by Costa Maya, on Mexico's Yucatan peninsula (which, incidentally, wasn't funded by Carnival Corp.). What's next? A Carnival source tells us to keep an eye on Belize City and Grand Cayman as possible destinations in line for a massive cruise-related upgrade.
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--by Melissa Baldwin, Senior Editor